Paul Takagi

Name Paul Takagi
Born May 3 1923
Died September 15 2015
Birth Location Auburn, California
Generational Identifier


Nisei scholar and advocate who helped develop the field of Asian American Studies.

Early Life and Wartime Incarceration

Born in Auburn, California, Paul Takao Takagi was one of three surviving children of Tomokichi and Yasu Takagi. (A fourth child drowned at age three.) His younger sister, Hannah Tomiko (Takagi) Holmes, who lost her hearing at the age of two, later became a prominent activist. Takagi grew up in the Sacramento Valley, where his father operated a 50-acre strawberry farm. He later recalled that he attended a two-room school house, where he was blessed with supportive white public school teachers. He then attended Elk Grove High School, where he graduated in 1941.

In fall 1941, Paul Takagi started junior college in Sacramento. Soon after, in March 1942, the Takagi family was rounded up and sent for incarceration at the Manzanar camp. In their absence, their farm was left unattended, eventually seized by the California state government, and sold off for back taxes. While at Manzanar, the young Takagi was employed as a medical orderly at the camp hospital. He was on duty in December 1942 when Jim Kanagawa, who had been shot by MPs during the so-called " Manzanar riot ," was brought in. Takagi lacked the skills and equipment to intervene effectively as Kanagawa died during the night. Traumatized by the experience, Takagi left his job and took a position as a reporter for the Manzanar Free Press . Within a few months he had been promoted to the paper's editorial staff, where he worked alongside Sue Kunitomi , future founder of the Manzanar Pilgrimages .

In May 1943, the Takagi family moved to the Tule Lake camp (then not yet a segregation center) so that Hannah Takagi could attend a school for the deaf operated there by the WRA . Paul Takagi chose instead to resettle outside camp. He was recruited to attend a trade school in Milford, Iowa, under the auspices of the National Youth Administration. However, when NYA director Aubrey Williams cancelled the program under pressure from congressional critics, he was cast adrift. Takagi ended up settling in Cleveland, where he worked as a "swamper," loading and unloading trucks. Not long afterwards, Takagi joined the U.S. Army, and was assigned to the renowned 442nd Regimental Combat Team . He underwent basic training at Camp Shelby in Mississippi, then was transferred to the Military Intelligence School at Fort Snelling, where he specialized in the study of German language. The war ended before he could be sent overseas.

Becoming a Criminologist

Following his discharge in October 1945, Takagi enrolled at the University of Illinois, with support from the GI Bill . When a writing assignment that Takagi produced on his experience at Manzanar received a poor grade from a bigoted professor, he decided to withdraw from the university. He moved to Chicago to be near his family, who had resettled there. In 1947, Takagi moved back to California. He completed a Bachelor's degree in psychology at UC Berkeley in 1949. In the following years, Takagi married Mary Ann Takagi and had two daughters, Tani and Dana. Dana Y. Takagi would later become a distinguished professor of sociology and Zen priest.

After graduating college, Paul Takagi worked as a prison guard at San Quentin, which led to his becoming a parole officer for the California State Department of Corrections. In 1952, he was engaged as a deputy probation officer in Alameda County. Although he was honored, he later explained, to become the first ethnic Japanese probation officer in the state's history, he found the work unsatisfying. Thus, he transferred to Los Angeles, where he worked as a parole officer for the California Adult Authority, assisting people who had gone to prison on narcotics charges.

Takagi's work caused him to rethink his ideas on race and social control. At one point, he resolved to study for a law degree at Loyola law school, but the plan fell through. Ultimately, he decided to return to Northern California and study for a doctorate in sociology at Stanford University, which he received in 1967. In 1965, even before he completed his degree, he was recruited as a professor of criminology by UC Berkeley—Takagi was a rare individual who had both academic credentials and "field experience." Over the following years, as professor and associate dean of the School of Criminology, Takagi helped transform the school into a center of the "crime and social justice" approach of Radical Criminology, which examined crime in the context of class and racial conflict. He helped found and edited the journal Social Justice . In lectures nationwide and in his writings, which included the books Punishment and Penal Discipline (1980) and Crime and Social Justice (1981), both cowritten with Tony Platt, Takagi examined the impact of racism and poverty on attitudes towards the law. As he put it bluntly in 1977, the source of crime in poor neighborhoods was "decades of neglect" by public authorities and lack of jobs. "So long as meaningful full employment is an unrealizable goal, crime will increase." [1]

Takagi worked to defend racial critics of society. He was an outspoken supporter of the Black Panthers. In 1971, Takagi announced support for a controversial referendum proposal to divide Berkeley into separate racial zones, so that white police—whom he charged had frequently used excessive force on African Americans—would no longer patrol black neighborhoods. He likewise expressed support for the radical activist Angela Davis, arrested by federal authorities on murder and conspiracy charges (on which she was ultimately acquitted at trial). "A black woman is fighting for equality and decency for her people, and [government agents] are picking on her for this." [2] He meanwhile made a name for himself as an advocate for prisoners' rights and an influential critic of systemic police brutality. Takagi and a colleague alienated then-California Governor Ronald Reagan and state authorities so deeply that the School of Criminology was eliminated in 1974. Takagi then moved to Berkeley's School of Education, where he remained for the rest of his teaching career.

A Founder of Asian American Studies

Even as he worked in criminology, Takagi branched out into other areas. In spring 1969, working together with students, he designed and co-taught the experimental class Asian Studies 100x, Berkeley's first-ever Asian American Studies class. While the university paid Takagi's salary, he raised outside money for guest speakers, which he used to bring in community figures such as activist Karl Yoneda and former Supreme Court resister Fred Korematsu . When Berkeley created its Asian American Studies program that fall, Takagi was named as its chair.

In connection with his Asian American Studies classes, Takagi encouraged students to reach out to local communities. He provided a strong model himself when he became centrally involved in the effort to save the bachelor hotels in San Francisco's Little Manila. He also spoke publicly in support of the movement by Japanese Americans to repeal Title II of the 1950 McCarran Internal Security Act , which authorized dissenters considered dangerous to be placed in concentration camps without trial. In 1975, on the invitation of activist Edison Uno , Takagi joined the Wendy Yoshimura Fair Trial Committee, organized to defend Yoshimura, a Japanese American associated with the radical group, the Symbionese Liberation Army. Takagi offered to serve as Yoshimura's sponsor so that she could be released on bail. "She needed a place to stay and it was important to bail her out to get her away from the pressure of personal despair in jail." [3] Yoshimura remained confined at the Takagi family home throughout her trial. She was ultimately convicted of weapons possession and spent some three years in prison.

Takagi retired from teaching in 1989, four years after his wife's death. On the occasion of his retirement, he received the signal honor of a tribute by Rep. Ronald Dellums, delivered on the floor of the House of Representatives. "For all of Paul's apparent dignity and reserve, he was one... of two faculty members of the School of Criminology who were so threatening that it brought about the elimination of that school by then Gov. Ronald Reagan." [4] In later years, he suffered from hearing loss, which limited his work and social interactions. He nonetheless enjoyed recognition for his contributions. For example, in 2007 he was the inaugural recipient of the National Council on Crime and Delinquency's Gerhard Mueller Award. He was also invited to speak that year at the annual Manzanar Pilgrimage and was interviewed by Densho. In 2008 the Association for Asian American Studies honored him with its Lifetime Achievement Award.

Authored by Greg Robinson , Université du Québec À Montréal

For More Information

Takagi, Paul T., and Gregory Shank. Paul T. Takagi: Recollections and Writings . Berkeley, Calif.: Crime and Social Justice Associates/Global Options, 2012.

Paul Takagi Interview , by Tom Ikeda, Oakland, California, March 16, 2011. Densho Visual History Collection, Densho Digital Repository.


  1. Eugene Robinson, "Chief Gain, Experts View S.F. Crime," San Francisco Chronicle , Mar. 21, 1977, 32.
  2. Dexter Waugh, "Rally to Free Angela," San Francisco Examiner , Feb. 14, 1971, 9.
  3. Carlyn Anspacher, "She's Out on Bail," San Francisco Chronicle , Dec. 20, 1975, 12.
  4. Congressman Ron Dellums, Congressional Record , Mar. 14, 1989, 4126-27.

Last updated Aug. 31, 2020, 3:48 p.m..